Football fans, beer lovers in Iraq crowd around for free brew
February 3, 2009
This was one Super Bowl party where the game took a back seat to something with even greater allure — free beer in Iraq.
Drawn by the promise of two free beers each, several hundred soldiers — maybe even more than 1,000 — flocked to the dining facility on Forward Operating Base Kalsu in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, in the wee morning hours Monday. Shortly after 1 a.m., the military men and women toasted each other with Heineken, Budweiser, Miller, Guinness and Coors.
Even though it was more than an hour before kickoff, the massive DFAC was abuzz (no pun intended) with positive energy. The soldiers laughed. They joked. They posed for pictures. They had fun.
The majority of the soldiers present were with the 172nd Infantry Brigade — known as the Blackhawks — out of Grafenwöhr, Germany.
“Damn, it feels good to be a Blackhawk,” said Maj. Jimmy Anderson, who is assigned to the Blackhawk Brigade. “I tell you. From the first time I was here in 2004, just to see the different changes in the soldiers’ morale with so many different activities and things are just getting better with the living conditions, it’s just awesome. It’s just unbelievable.”
Not every unit in Iraq was allowed to drink beer. Originally, only Multi-National Division-Baghdad had received permission to allow its servicemembers two beers while watching the game. But then Gen. Ray Odierno, top commander in Iraq, waived the ban, covered in General Order No. 1, to include all units in Iraq.
Still, he left it up to commanders to “exercise discretion and good judgment.”
Beer was nixed at FOB Warhorse in Baqouba. Despite the late hour and lack of beer, about 200 soldiers showed up to watch the big game at the dining hall. It was a raucous atmosphere with competing chants by a solid contingent of both Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals partisans. The Steelers won 27-23.
“I came out with my buddy to watch a moment of history — watching the Super Bowl in Iraq,” Pvt. Timothy Caulton said.
In between bites of fried snacks, Sgt. John Burroughs, with the 202nd Military Police Company, said he was disappointed by the decision to ban beer. He wrinkled his nose in disgust when asked if he would be drinking the non-alcoholic variety offered.
“No, no. I will never touch that stuff again,” he said.
One soldier said the ban on alcohol “just plain and simply sucks.”
Some people, though, said drinking beer could adversely affect readiness. And others were indifferent.
“I’m not a real heavy drinker, so I had no intention of drinking anyway,” said Sgt. Dean Adams, also with the 202nd Military Police Company.
Back at Kalsu, some savored each sip of brew, cherishing the rare treat. More than a few guarded their cans and bottles, watching for any lurkers trying to steal precious sips. Others starved themselves Sunday and chugged their beers to receive the greatest effect from the frosty beverages.
First Lt. Robin Wharton of Mount Vernon, Ohio, chose Guinness because it had the highest alcohol content of the beers available, she said.
“I don’t really like [Guinness], but I went with it,” she said. “It’s a morale booster. We’ve only been here, what, three months. Little stuff like this may seem minor to a lot of folks, but to a lot of the soldiers, especially the infantry, I think it’s nice.”
Some units applied a systematic approach to the beer distribution. They checked each soldier’s name on a roster, handed them an opened beer of their choice and inked their hand with a black marker. To get their second beer, soldiers had to return their first empty beer, and then their hand was marked again. Other units simply handed soldiers two beers at the same time. Enough beer was available to ensure that every soldier on the FOB who wanted two beers could get them.
For most troops at Forward Operating Base Delta in Kut, southeast of Baghdad, the night was less about getting a buzz than the novelty of a drinking a beer.
“This is probably the happiest day I’ve had out here in Iraq,” said Cpl. Abby Burge, who said she’d been in Iraq for about nine months and didn’t care about the Super Bowl. “I just like beer.”
First Sgt. Ed Peterson, responsible for the soldiers of the 772nd Military Police Company who chose to drink, said drinking in a combat zone had its positives and negatives.
“It’s good that it lets us relax and just watch the game,” he said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the right atmosphere to be having it. You’re in a combat zone. Even though we are in a relaxed state for a couple of hours, you don’t know what could happen afterwards.”
At FOB Delta, soldiers had to sign when they received their two allotted beers, which were already opened so nobody would take them outside their designated drinking area. Some people were searched when they left.
Troops on duty during the live broadcast of the game were allowed to drink during a replay of the Super Bowl on Monday evening.
Staff Sgt. Tim Burdick said beer was a good boost for morale. “It’s probably the first and last time you’ll get to drink a beer in Iraq,” he said.
Many applauded the two-beer limit, saying it was enough to enjoy but not make anybody drunk. Some, like Spc. Aaron Berg, planned to down them quickly in hopes of getting a buzz.
“It’s kind of nice having it over here,” he said after downing his second beer, a Guinness, in about 30 seconds. “But I wanted nachos, to be honest. That’s my main reason for coming.”